Youth receive seed funding for social entrepreneurship projects
Meder Usupbekov, 26, is one of 150 people in Naryn, Kyrgyz Republic who rely on a wheelchair for everyday mobility. Meder’s movement is significantly limited by a lack of infrastructure supporting wheelchair accessibility in Naryn town.
When Meder heard about a University of Central Asia-hosted social entrepreneurship competition funded by Coca-Cola encouraging youth to propose project ideas that solve problems in their communities, he saw it as an opportunity to make a difference.
“In Naryn, people with disabilities can’t move independently in town on wheelchairs. If we could put ramps in major public institutions, we could solve some of the problems they have with accessing information, education and health facilities,” he said.
Meder is one of nine winners receiving small grants as part of the Enhancing opportunities for youth in income-generation, entrepreneurship, and education in Kyrgyzstan project. Funded by the Coca Cola Company (TCCC) and implemented by the Aga Khan Foundation, Kyrgyz Republic (AKF, Kg) and the School of Professional and Continuing Education (SPCE), University of Central Asia (UCA), the project aims to strengthen the capacity of youth in Kyrgyzstan to identify and constructively address critical socio-economic needs in their community through social entrepreneurship.
Meder Usupbekov receiving his certificate from AKF, Kyrgyz Republic CEO Shahid Punjani for his entrepreneurship project.
In countries like the Kyrgyz Republic, young people like Meder are uniquely positioned to be ‘change agents,’ applying creative ideas using entrepreneurial principles to develop sustainable solutions to challenges facing their communities.
In July 2012, UCA’s SPCE and AKF jointly launched a nationwide campaign in the Kyrgyz Republic to encourage youth to submit innovative social entrepreneurship ideas. Nine winners received seed funding of up to US$3,000 to implement their idea from the Aga Khan Foundation, USA.
“Promoting economic growth through entrepreneurship development is a core priority for UCA, with a central emphasis on endeavours that create social value to the communities where our learners come from,” said Dr. Bohdan Krawchenko, UCA Director General.
UCA received 218 applications from across the country. As part of its visibility campaign, introductory training sessions were held in Bishkek, Issyk-Kul, Naryn, Talas, Jalal-Abad, Osh and Batken from 20 July – 4 August 2012 to encourage submissions.
Competition winners (from left to right): Marsbek Tezekov, Murzaliev Adilet, Shilonosoba Elena, Akbarov Azamat, Usupbekov Meder, Kudayberdieva Aisuluu, Adilbek uulu Shumkarbek, Alimjanova Mirgul with Ezel Agaoglu, Director General of Coca – Cola Bottlers Bishkek and Aijan Dzhumalieva, Communications Officer.
“This training provided local youth with a good opportunity to understand social entrepreneurship. The contest reached out to a significant number of youth, harnessing their ambition to assist their community. They will be key in promoting economic growth through entrepreneurship development,” said Nurbek Nisharapov, Project Coordinator.
Of these applicants, 26 finalists were selected to participate in an intensive two-week training course in Bishkek to further develop their project ideas. Delivered by SPCE, finalists studied the fundamentals of social entrepreneurship and social marketing, as well as business communication and negotiation, information technology, and business planning for social projects.
Finalists presented their refined business plans to an independent selection committee comprising representatives from the Ministry of Youth, Labour and Employment, Coca-Cola Bottlers Company (Bishkek), UCA’s SPCE, AKF, Kg, and the local NGO ‘Association of Social Entrepreneurs’. Finalists were selected, taking into account the overall sustainability and feasibility of the project.
Examples of final proposals included; generating profit from waste separation initiatives in elementary schools to purchase school supplies for students in need, and working with children from orphanages to design and produce eco-bags, and using profits to support its financial needs.
On 20 September 2012, UCA, AKF, Kg, and the Coca Cola Company presented grants to nine of the 26 finalists at a ceremony held at UCA, Bishkek.
Emphasizing the significance of youth as catalysts for change, Shahid Punjani, CEO, AKF, Kg said: “Going forward, your job will be not only to complete your projects, but to also inspire your friends, families and community members to propose their own ideas for change.”
Ezel Agaoglu, General Director of Coca-Cola Bishkek Bottlers, Kyrgyz Republic, and Bob Wheeler, UCA Chief Operating Officer, also congratulated the winners.
“We always need young people with bright ideas. And today, we have nine winners who will receive a grant. Coca Cola always supports young people,” said Agaoglu.
For Meder and others, this is a rare opportunity to materialize their ideas. Beginning 2013, Meder will manage a small team to build ramps throughout town, improving his business management skills while responding to a critical need within his community.
Expressing his gratitude at the awards ceremony, Meder said: “I would like to thank the project’s donors and SPCE instructors for their entrepreneurship training. This win has encouraged me to do more and taught me how to implement projects.”